The crowd estimate included people who attended the Pope’s final Mass in Rizal Park and surrounding areas, and lined his motorcade route, said the chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, Francis Tolentino.
Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi said the Vatican had received the figure officially from local authorities and that it was a record, surpassing the five million who turned out for St John Paul II’s final Mass in the same park in 1995.
Francis marked an important feast day honouring the infant Jesus by dedicating the final homily of his week-long Asian trip, which began in Sri Lanka, to children.
“We need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected,” Francis said in his homily. “And we need to care for our young people, not allowing them to be robbed of hope and condemned to a life on the streets.”
Francis made a triumphant entry into Rizal Park during his visit to the typhoon-hit eastern city of Tacloban a day earlier.
The crowd — a sea of humanity in colourful rain ponchos spread out across 148 acres of parkland and boulevards surrounding it — erupted in shrieks of joy when he drove by, a reflection of the incredible resonance Francis’s message about caring for society’s youngest and most marginal has had in a country where about a quarter of its 100 million people lives in poverty.
Earlier yesterday, Francis drew a huge crowd to Manila’s Catholic university, where he came close to tears himself hearing two rescued street children speak of their lives growing up poor and abandoned.
The Pope ditched his prepared remarks and spoke off the cuff in his native Spanish to respond to 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar, who wept as she asked Francis why children suffer so much.
Palomar, a former street child rescued by a church-run foundation, told him of children who are abandoned or neglected by their parents and end up on the streets using drugs or in prostitution.
“Why is God allowing something like this to happen, even to innocent children?” Palomar said through tears. “And why are there so few who are helping us?”
A visibly moved Francis said he had no answer. “Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question,”